How an almost near-death experience is all you need for a good dose of perspective and realization.
That’s how long it took me to realize I can die.
11,740ish days. That’s when I realized that I was a spec, a grain, an insignificant drop in the bucket.
11,740ish days. That’s also when I realized I am the luckiest man in my world.
I woke up yesterday and was paralyzed. Histrionics aside, I literally had no control over my faculties and felt that something terrible had happened.
The pain in my head was unlike anything I knew existed. I have heard of brain tumors, aneurysms, concussions, cancer, migraines, etc … but I had never, in 11,740ish days, been susceptible to anything above the mere sinus headache or hangover.
In a time of weakness, they say you have 2 choices. You can either run away or stand your ground. I’d like to think I chose a little bit of both.
But first let’s go back to the 11,739ish day.
I was at one of my late-night gym sessions playing basketball with some physically gifted individuals. Like I have been for the better part of the last year. This is how I’ve managed to lose 50 pounds since moving to LA. It’s not easy, but after a few hours of daily, full-court basketball, I felt accomplished, and the results came pouring off by way of copious amounts of sweat.
Well, last night I had one of those nights where every bucket was dropping. The 6’8” man on my team, CJ, called me “Mr. Can’t-Miss.” And let me tell you, having someone with a skill set clearly superior than yours, in any field, compliment you is an immediate injection of euphoria. But it’s also true. I was taking shots I never take: three-pointers, reverses, and breakaways … and I would easily say 80% of them were going in.
It was a heater to say the least. Up until the last minute of the last game. Our team had won five games in a row, which is incredible in pick-up ball due to the exhausting nature of a full-court game.
There was a shot by the opposite team, a miss, a rebound by a teammate, me streaking down the right side, an outlet pass that careened inwards, and a straight drive to the basket. Then a hack. A vicious, albeit unintentional, swipe that landed right at the back of my head. This sent me sprawling down, and though I managed to keep my balance, I came crashing down on one leg and felt a deep shock reverberate through my body.
“Are you OK?”
“Of course I am,” I proudly/stupidly muttered. These are of course 10 grown men playing a man’s game. Wait … it’s just a game. I brushed myself off and felt a little dizzy, but continued the game and finished victoriously.
I shook hands and limped off the court, proud and covered in sweat, into the rare, cold California night. Once I got home, at about 2:00 a.m., I resisted the temptation to eat anything because I wanted to maximize the benefit of all the calories I had burned (probably 2000+). In hindsight, this was moronic. Always, always have protein and water after that much exercise!
Back to day 11,740ish. A big day was planned: workout in the morning, coffee with a friend, preparation for an audition, a guitar lesson, a British English lesson, and then work at night followed by late-night basketball. A typical day for me. A wonderful day for me.
9:30 a.m.: I opened my eyes and felt like I was on fire.
My whole body was in stasis. My head felt like someone was drilling a rusty bit the size of a flashlight into it. My eyes were on fire.
What the fuck was happening?
I closed my eyes thinking, this will pass in a few.
15 minutes later, since I am a stubborn fool, I forced myself out of bed, even though my limbs felt like spaghetti, even though my stomach felt like Floyd Mayweather was sucker punching it over and over, even though I wanted to keep my eyes closed forever.
I put on my gym clothes because I had said I was going to the gym.
I got in my p.o.s. Volvo and drove to Starbucks first, thinking that as soon as I had my daily coffee I’d be a-OK.
Ordering the coffee was difficult as even the words felt slurred as they came out of my mouth.
Something was wrong.
I made my way back to the car and before I could start the engine, just sat there. I sat there for what felt like 20 minutes, just looking at my arms and legs, wondering why they weren’t working properly. I sat there and got angry at my stomach for turning over like an engine that was giving up.
I managed to get home and went right back to bed, covering myself with my comforter as if it were a shield from all things bad. If I just sleep it off, I’ll be fine, I thought.
Have you ever tried to sleep, only to get woken up every five minutes as if an alarm suddenly shook you awake? Replace the alarm with a searing pain through your head and bouts of nausea that would make an Easter Island head throw up.
This happened for seven hours straight. Until finally I broke down.
I canceled coffee with my friend, canceled my guitar and voice lessons, got called off work, and, with the frustration of my day ruined, and as a 32-year-old lying in bed at 4:00 p.m., I lost it.
Yes, I completely and utterly lost my shit.
I ran away.
When you’re alone, you definitely have a penchant for thinking of the worst-case scenario as no one is around to slap you out of it.
When you’re alone, you tend to go macro and start summing up your life when you think something’s gone terribly awry.
When you’re alone, you’re alone.
I texted my best friend in the world that something was wrong, and of course he called right away. It wasn’t until a minute or two into the conversation, whilst describing my problems, that I just utterly broke down and started bawling. Take in this picture for a second: a grown-ass, 32-year-old man, wrapped in a blanket, thinking he is done, alone in a house, crying. How’s that for pathetic? Quite.
I don’t like showing weakness, because I have never considered myself weak. I don’t like the idea of publishing this, for it will live on the Internet for god knows how long. But I do believe in learning from mistakes, and having this as a reminder will help me make better choices in the future. Some people run, some stand their ground.
After breaking down on the phone, another one of my friends called, and after hearing the state I was in, he said he was on his way. After this I called my “doctor”—I call her my “doctor” though a) I don’t have health insurance, and b) she lives in Philadelphia, but c) she is kind enough to give me the best advice via phone. After a few conversations, she said that it was probably a concussion or migraine, not an aneurysm or a blood clot. (Legal disclaimer: to be fair, she said that the possibility of it being anything was still there.) She told me to get some migraine medicine, hydrate and see where I, no pun intended, stood in a few hours.
At this point, my friend showed up and, being one of the nicest men ever, proceeded to handle me with care and get me meds, food, and liquids. I felt 50% better within a few hours.
My head and body still hurt, but nowhere near as bad as a mere 20 hours ago. I am obviously able to look at the computer screen without pain. I am also able to realize the two most important things I could take away from this:
- I am not alone. I have the most incredible friends anyone could ever ask for.
- I am mortal. I am not superhuman. I will die. I can hurt … but until then I can also live.
And I will. This is no happy ending, because this is not an ending. I could drop dead tomorrow. But regardless, I know now that I am mortal and that it’s OK to be weak when the weight buckles your knees. If you’ve been a good person, you’ll have someone next to you to help you up. For some people (Tim Tebow) that’s Jesus; for others it’s a lover, children, or parents; for me, it’s my friends, and it takes a few of them but, man, can they help me up.
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
Thank you, Walker, Ashlee, Michael, and Corinne.
—A mere lucky Mortal.